Home backup systems are the ugly step-child of technology. No one likes to talk about them or think about them, but they’re still an important part of the family. In fact, they’re becoming even more important as families store all of their digital memories or writing on their computers.
It’s getting to the point where I don’t even get prints of pictures anymore and just assume that I’ll store and share them digitally. So if a hard drive goes, there go all my memories…
So what’s a home user to do? Backups of course!
Once you decide that backups are a good idea, you have to decide which backup solution you’d like to use. Hopefully, I can help with that because it seems like I’ve tried them all….
The Brute Force Method
The simplest and cheapest option would just be to regularly burn DVDs or even better regularly copy the data to an external USB drive. This was the very first back method that I used back in the day.
The problem is that it is an extremely manual process and there’s a certain amount of weight that hangs over your head because you have to remember to do those annoying backups.
The bottom line is that I would not recommend this approach any more as there are many better options. Computers are supposed to automate this stuff. Right?
Where’s my Time Machine?
If you are lucky enough to have a Mac, backup is relatively easy and built-in. You just plug in a USB drive and all the sudden this nifty program called Time Machine just starts using it to regularly backup your machine.
The best aspect of time machine is that it’s built-in to OS X and it’s all very seamless. You just don’t have to think about it.
This is a great option if you have a Mac. For example, we have Macs and PCs at home, but we copy all of our photos to the Mac and let time machine back them up to an external USB drive.
Frankly, I wish the PC had an option as simple and intuitive as Time Machine, but sadly it does not so If you’re a PC user, read on…
Trapped in Carbonite!
Carbonite is probably the best-known online home backup system. The way it works is you install an application on your machine that runs in the background and backs up your system to their online data storage.
They have plans for around $50/year so it’s affordable for the average home user. In theory this is great idea because you can set it and forget it. And you get the added benefit of having your data backed up offsite, so if your house burns down your priceless family photos are still safe. What could go wrong?
After using Carbonite myself for about six months, I have two problems with the service. The first is that backing up lots of large files over the internet can be very slow. Now your mileage may vary depending on your internet speed and the amount of stuff you want to backup and this is true of any online backup.
But, by far, the biggest issue I had with Carbonite was that when a machine did fail, I wasn’t able to get my data back from Carbonite. I tried all of their restore options and their program just kept crashing. I even installed their program on fresh machine and logged into my account to no avail. It just kept crashing.
After trying to call them and waiting on hold forever, I finally gave up. My data was essentially trapped in Carbonite!
This illustrates an important point of backup solutions. If you can’t restore your data, then the backup is worthless!
iDrive (no it’s not an Apple product)
iDrive works much like Carbonite in that it’s an online backup system with a monthly cost of roughly $50/year, but that’s where the similarities end.
First off, iDrive has a totally free version that lets you backup 2GB of data. This is a nice solution for folks who don’t have a ton of pictures to back up.
Secondly, iDrive has a great web interface for restoring files whereas Carbonite forces you to install their software before you can restore. This makes it MUCH easier to your data back.
Carbonite needed me to install their software before I could get my data back, and when their software kept crashing I was stuck. With iDrive, you can simply login to their site and grab the files you like — right from your browser.
That combination of easy “set it and forget it” along with simple restore options have me sold on iDrive. It’s what I currently use for my PCs.
The above are the solutions that I’ve had personal experience with. I’ve also heard good things about Windows Home Server, but have yet to try it myself. Mainly because it requires a dedicated machine. It’s hard to pull the trigger on a $400 machine dedicated to backup. I think it’s probably overkill for the average home user.
Acronis True Image or even the built in Vista and Windows 7 imaging are also good options to consider. My only problem with these is that imaging often is beyond the average home user, and I typically end up buying a new machine when one crashes. An image requires the exact same hardware to be restored, so it doesn’t work if you end up buying a new machine.
If you have a Mac, the built-in Time Machine is an excellent solution for the regular home user. It’s extremely intuitive, and for the cost of a USB drive you are all set. Just remember that it requires a blank USB drive and provides no offsite protection.
For the PC, my choice is iDrive. It provides inexpensive, offsite backup and because it has a web interface, you can always get your files back from nearly anywhere.